S03E10: Oh, United States of Tara. I know this isn’t the case and they created this episodes months ago before the news of their cancellation, but it seems like this week’s episode was a direct response to the news a few weeks ago, because everyone starts abandoning the U.S.S. Tara. Well, almost everyone. But a captain never abandons his ship and we’ll get into that later.
Anyway, there were two catalysts for the episode. First was the news of Bryce and the implications of his existence. The second was Lionel's death. Combine the two of them and well, I’m still not exactly sure how we can call this show a comedy after that.
First, let’s start with the central character most removed from the rest: Charmaine. While still a part of the family, she's removed from the general destruction that was unfolding with the rest of the Gregsons. Neil finally returned and while it was really sweet to watch Patton Oswalt hold the baby and be really sweet, it was really funny hearing Char talking about getting some dick (and a little strange to learn that she lost her virginity at 11 to a dude with a hairlip, but I guess it has to be a comedy somehow). The two new parents finally find out about Bryce playing games with Wheels and taking her on the bus, and as Patton tweeted, he fucking lost it. This was the first of the bailouts. Neil finally gets through to Char that he is her family now, he has a responsibility to her and his daughter to ensure their safety and if that means removing themselves from her dangerous sister, so be it. Char eventually sees that she can’t take of Tara if it means potentially taking her away from Wheels. And we all gotta love it when the man of the house finally takes charge, woo!
"And does super casual mean we're khakis or jean shorts?" - Evan
Next to abandon ship had already started to jump, but she kept one foot solidly on deck: Kate. Things had been going pretty well with Evan but when they attempted to define it by way of comparison to pants things just unraveled. This is what happens when you bring Kevin Smith into your relationship talks. Also, in retaliation for him unleashing his demon spawn of a son on her, she unloads her family issues on him. Check and mate, bitches. So, needless to say, they were in a mighty uncertain time. But then Lionel’s death and Bryce’s subsequent tantrum cause her to realize that she has to get out and she pulls an altered run to the airport to meet him at the last minute. Only, since she is a flight attendant, she apparently has the super power to just board the flight and get the seat immediately beside Evan -- not a bad super power to have.
Now we get to the real and uber-dramatic person jumping overboard: Marshall. He makes his glorious return from New York excited about life and all its infinite possibilities, but if there is ever anything life teaches harder than anything else, it's that it’s always too short. Lionel was killed in a car crash and Marshall learns this through one of the worst teachers possibly ever portrayed on film. Everyone, of course, seeks to comfort him and despite his best attempts to keep them out with a locked door that doesn’t stop them. He appeases them by listening, but never lashes out. He prefers to suffer in silence; Marshall never wants to add to anyone’s problems and you really gotta admire a kid like that. However, you can’t suffer the world by yourself and after he realizes that he decides to leave. Actually, he didn’t so much realize that as he did give up after Bryce destroyed his room. When he summed up his problems saying “no one can have a bigger problem than her” it really summed up his whole family’s problem. They aren’t able to deal with anything else, whether it be internal or external, because of Tara. And after his first love dies with no one able to support him in the manner he needs, of course he leaves. Gotta respect that.
"Apparently Woody Allen works the register at FAO Schwartz on 5th Ave." - Marshall
But right as he was about to jump, the captain of the ship ran up to deck to ask for his help: Max. Poor, poor, poor Max. Everyone else had the ability to leave and took the opportunity to do so. But Max? Max can’t leave. Whether it's due to social responsibility or love (Max will always say love), Max has to stay and help Tara. He finally realized that he was in over his head when he finds out that Hatteras gave up Tara as a client and when Bryce was going crazy he asked Marshall for help with this “river of shit.” And then Max finally sees that the rest of his family can’t deal with Tara any more and it’s up to him. And him alone. In that moment, he recognized his duty and he could’ve buckled under that pressure, but he didn’t. You have to respect a man like that. Max is very strong and if he can keep Tara from killing herself or someone else there may just be hope for her yet.
Unfortunately, a ship isn’t able to jump itself; it has to weather the storm: Tara. Tara had the right idea this week: snort the pills. Bryce can’t barf up something that’s gone up the snot tube and it works. Unfortunately it puts her in a high state and that’s only slightly better than Bryce because she’s not destroying anything. But it stops her from being there for her family when they need her. Ah, choices. Comatose or a destructive adolescent? She attempts to stay sober and Tara for a little bit for Marshall when he’s at his lowest, but that choice has disastrous consequences. Because she didn’t take the medication (or immediately after?) Bryce was able to escape. When the family is off to Lionel’s (flamboyant) funeral Bryce goes off in Marshall’s room and trashes the place. So, it’s not enough for Bryce to destroy Tara’s inner self, he starts taking it out on her family and he starts with the most vulnerable. What a dick.
And since we have two episodes left to go, Bryce asserts himself out saying that he’s going to be around for a while. He takes a pair of scissors to Tara’s hair and boom - we’ve got a crisis on deck. With everyone seemingly leaving, the final two episodes will probably focus more on how Tara tries to handle Bryce and the implications of his appearance. Like the title of the episode suggests, this was a train wreck and like a train wreck you really can’t look away (and yes, I realized I used shipping metaphors throughout. Artistic license, FTW) even if you have to wait to weeks to watch the destruction.
For the past 11 years--his whole life--Evan (Freddie Highmore) has been an orphan but that’s about to change along with his name. Evan has "always heard the music " even when it’s not playing and one day he decides to follow it in hopes of finding the parents he’s never met and whose musical genes he has inherited. It takes him out of the orphanage he has always despised and into Manhattan where 11 years prior he was conceived. As we learn via flashback his parents both young musicians at the time were an unlikely match: Lyla (Keri Russell) was a shy dainty cellist while Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was a brash Irish rocker. Their mutual love for music ultimately brought them together on a rooftop for just one night of which Evan turned out to be the product. But when Evan is born prematurely Lyla’s father (William Sadler) does what he thinks is right for her career and gives the newborn up for adoption without her knowledge. Lyla and Louis have since reluctantly given up music but Evan is about to pick up where they left off in New York City. While there he is discovered by a seemingly well-intentioned "manager" named Wizard (Robin Williams) who renames the prodigy August Rush. Before long Wizard is booking gigs in hopes of capitalizing financially while August hopes to use his music for a slightly nobler purpose: tracking down and reuniting his parents. Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate) is as much a child-actor prodigy as August Rush is a musician; he’s truly in a class of his own. It’s not just that the British youngster seamlessly ditches his accent to play an American—better and more undetectably than many of his elders are able to do might I add—or that he’s able to pull off the musical aspect (he reportedly mastered the guitar and conducting for further authenticity) but rather that he advances the never-dormant story every step of the way. And it’s not every day that a teenager can handle being the centerpiece of a big Hollywood movie (see The Seeker et al.) but Highmore makes it a non-issue. Russell and Rhys Meyers meanwhile add a classy touch of adult to the story with their opposites-attract arc. Russell borders on too pristine and precious at times and Rhys Meyers is written as the stereotype of Irishmen but they make you believe in the commonality of music as a matchmaker. Williams however misfires with his portrayal of the somewhat ambiguous Wizard. It is unclear whether he is a reincarnated pirate or just a well-traveled New Yorker and Williams plays him with that lack of clarity but kids will laugh nonetheless when the actor gets loud and hyper. Terrence Howard as a concerned social worker and Mykelti Williamson as a pastor turn in solid supporting performances while young Jamia Simone Nash may incite standing ovations with her singing. The concept of August Rush is most certainly aimed towards those too young to discern between realism and fantasy but at least director Kirsten Sheridan (Jim’s daughter) doesn’t patronize kid viewers the way most preteen movies do. While the young director doesn’t exactly steer clear of clichés and sap she makes a concerted effort to place the film’s music and sheer energy at the forefront. Sheridan also does the best with what she’s given which is a highly predictable occasionally preachy script—with a tendency to give Highmore cringe-worthy voiceovers (i.e. “Open yourself up to the music around you”)—written by Nick Castle (Hook which August Rush often resembles) James V. Hart (The Last Mimzy) and Paul Castro. Just as impressive as the film’s omnipresent music—both “found” (basketball dribbles etc.) and orchestrated—is the look of a somewhat magical Manhattan that is as fun for kids as it is mildly scary. All in all Sheridan’s first big movie is a different if slightly uneven kind of kids flick but not so different that the target audience won’t dance along.
As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.